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Saving Darwin's muse: evolutionary genetics for the recovery of the Floreana mockingbird


Hoeck, P E A; Beaumont, M A; James, K E; Grant, R B; Grant, P R; Keller, L F (2010). Saving Darwin's muse: evolutionary genetics for the recovery of the Floreana mockingbird. Biology Letters, 6(2):212-215.

Abstract

The distribution of mockingbird species among the Gala´pagos Islands prompted Charles Darwin to question, for the first time in writing, the ‘stability of species’. Some 50 years after Darwin’s visit, however, the endemic Floreana mockingbird (Mimus trifasciatus) had become extinct on Floreana Island and, today, only two small populations survive on two satellite islets. As Darwin noted, rarity often precedes extinction. To avert extinction, plans are being developed to reintroduce M. trifasciatus to Floreana. Here, we integrate evolutionary thinking and conservation practice using coalescent
analyses and genetic data from contemporary and museum samples, including two collected by Darwin and Robert Fitzroy on Floreana in 1835. Our microsatellite results show substantial differentiation between the two extant populations, but our coalescence-based modelling does not indicate long, independent evolutionary histories. One of the populations is highly inbred, but both harbour unique alleles present on Floreana in 1835, suggesting that birds from both islets should be used to establish a single, mixed population on Floreana. Thus, Darwin’s mockingbird specimens not only revealed to him a level of variation that suggested speciation following geographical isolation but also, more than 170 years later, return important information to their place of origin for the conservation of their conspecifics.

The distribution of mockingbird species among the Gala´pagos Islands prompted Charles Darwin to question, for the first time in writing, the ‘stability of species’. Some 50 years after Darwin’s visit, however, the endemic Floreana mockingbird (Mimus trifasciatus) had become extinct on Floreana Island and, today, only two small populations survive on two satellite islets. As Darwin noted, rarity often precedes extinction. To avert extinction, plans are being developed to reintroduce M. trifasciatus to Floreana. Here, we integrate evolutionary thinking and conservation practice using coalescent
analyses and genetic data from contemporary and museum samples, including two collected by Darwin and Robert Fitzroy on Floreana in 1835. Our microsatellite results show substantial differentiation between the two extant populations, but our coalescence-based modelling does not indicate long, independent evolutionary histories. One of the populations is highly inbred, but both harbour unique alleles present on Floreana in 1835, suggesting that birds from both islets should be used to establish a single, mixed population on Floreana. Thus, Darwin’s mockingbird specimens not only revealed to him a level of variation that suggested speciation following geographical isolation but also, more than 170 years later, return important information to their place of origin for the conservation of their conspecifics.

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9 citations in Web of Science®
10 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:2010
Deposited On:16 Dec 2009 15:08
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 13:34
Publisher:The Royal Society
ISSN:1744-9561
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2009.0778
PubMed ID:19923141
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-24502

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